by, Nathaniel Holloway
Studying abroad is usually a memorable experience that people talk about for the rest of their lives. They often fondly remember the island, city, town, or university where they studied and talk about how it was a formative experience in their life. Students gain academic, professional, and personal knowledge. But how many study abroad students can say that they were able to give back to the community that gave them so much? Well the students here at CIEE Bonaire Research Station can!
Part of our curriculum includes a Culture and Environmental History of Bonaire course. One of the hopes of this course is to immerse the students in the culture of Bonaire beyond what can be garnered in the classroom. To attain this goal we provide the students with a crash course in Papiamentu (the local language) and opportunities to volunteer in the community.
These opportunities have included:
- restoring the Stormvogel (Papiamentu for storm bird), one of the last remaining wooden cargo vessels built on Bonaire,
- volunteering at the local animal shelter,
- picking up trash on the beach,
- painting “DO NOT ENTER” on rocks to prevent people from disturbing the flamingos in the flamingo sanctuary,
- and manning a booth with volunteers from the Echo project at a local farmers market.
These opportunities provide the students a chance to interact with the community and to give something back.
Two particularly popular volunteer activities this semester were the Project Stormvogel and the Flamingo Sanctuary rock painting event. Helping at the Project Stormvogel is hot, sweaty, fun, and rewarding work. The students have helped haul kui (Papiamentu for mesquite) for the new ribs, pull hundreds of nails, remove rotted ribs, remove the keelson and much, much, more. The student volunteers are enrolled in the project’s Junior Shipwright program, which awards them a certificate and a t-shirt upon completion of 10 hours of volunteering. In fact, one of our students was the first graduate from the program. Most, importantly the Project Stormvogel provides an opportunity for the students to interact with Bonaireans and help restore a boat with significant cultural and historical importance.
Another fun event was the rock painting event at the Flamingo Sanctuary. This activity brought together people from all across the island, including: rangers and staff from the national park and marine park, CIEE students and staff, local residents, and the Junior Rangers (a group for teenagers that teaches them about earth science and conservation). Our students helped collect the rocks, paint them yellow, and write “DO NOT ENTER” on the rocks is six different languages (Papiamentu, English, Dutch, Spanish, German, and Portuguese). Flamingos are an important and well-loved natural resource here on Bonaire. Unfortunately, sometimes they are too well-loved; people try to get too close to them for pictures and sight-seeing and end up disturbing them and harming their habitat. The painted rocks are an effective way to remind people to be careful and conserve this precious resource.
Volunteering on Bonaire has enhanced our student’s study abroad experience on Bonaire by providing them an opportunity to interact with and give something back to the community. Hopefully, their experience will not only have a positive impact on their lives but it will also have a positive impact on Bonaire.